Well, of course, anything is possible. And with the Bruins’ recent forays into the trading market, they have certainly elevated their status to front of the class in the Eastern Conference in the minds of many. And the Canucks, who are standing pat for the moment at least, still hold onto the top seed in the Western Conference. So on that basis, Saturday night’s tilt could well have been a preview of a June showdown.
The Bruins, almost as starved for a Cup win as the Canucks, haven’t won the ultimate prize since the days of Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and the Big Bad Bruins. Their 39 year drought falling just short of the Canucks’ remarkable run at ineptitude.
If Saturday’s game was any indication, the Canucks would have their hands full with the Bruins who are led from the goal-line out by the unorthodox brilliance of keeper Tim Thomas who is putting up a season for the ages. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have Zdeno Chara playing half the night in front of him providing the Bruins with what the Canucks lack, a bonafide elite defenseman.
It’s fair to say that with Marc Savard’s career likely over, the Canucks have the edge in skill up front and, when healthy, a deeper defense. The Bruins, in typical Boston style, are capable of playing a grinding style that is most effective come playoff time. This grit and determination is exemplified perfectly by their young leader and Vancouver native Milan Lucic, who was in on every Boston goal Saturday night.
The loss to the Bruins highlights what could go wrong for the Canucks come playoff time. Despite a solid outing from Roberto Luongo, the Canucks top players were not only neutralized by the Bruins, but taken advantage of by Boston’s top players. In the end, the Canucks top six forwards finished a combined -10 for the night.
Call it what you will. An off night for the local heroes. An inability of Coach Vigneault to get the right line match-ups on home ice. A lack of size and toughness on the top two units to withstand a more physical match-up. All of the above or none of the above, in the end, it seemingly comes down to goal-tending.
A little known stat revealed by the folks on Dan Russell’s SportsTalk radio show is remarkably telling. On only eight occasions this season have the Canucks faced an opposition goaltender who has stopped more than 90% of the shots the Canucks have directed his way. The Canucks have lost all eight of those games. And last night was one of those nights.
This is a difficult little nugget to interpret. Naturally, if the opposing goalie stands on his head, you’re more likely to lose. But to have only run into better than competent goal-tending eight times this season is striking (a 90% save percentage is simply average play). Have the Canucks been lucky to face shaky goalkeeping on a frequent basis? Or are they simply so skilled up front that they make all but the game’s elite tenders look bad? It’s likely a combination of the two. And in the end, the Canucks’ Achilles heel might be one they have no control over – superlative opposition goal-tending.
Yes, suffice is to say that when facing a goalkeeper in a seven game series the likes of Tim Thomas, who is sporting a sublime .939 save percentage this season, any team will be in tough.
With the trade deadline looming, the Bruins have done what the Canucks haven’t, aggressively improving their team for a deep playoff run. And while one could argue that they had more holes to plug (lacking arguably their number one centre and the defensive depth of a team like the Canucks), with a surplus of young talent, they certainly could have had the luxury of waiting until next year.
In the end, we’ll be disappointed if the Canucks don’t do something to add to their top nine forward depth – preferably a hard nosed playoff veteran. Time will tell if this happens. But we like the chances of a Canucks versus Bruins Stanley Cup showdown a whole lot better if it does…Tags: Vancouver Canucks